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Diary: Do not be a local champion – and 3 other lessons Achebe taught me

I struggled with what to call this piece. Initially I called it “Ode
to Achebe”, but changed it when it dawned on me that I am not gifted in
poetry or songwriting. This was compounded by my concern about how to do
justice to the life of a colossal figure, who is not only an African
literary Icon, but also a global one for that matter?

Like Professor Chinua Achebe, some of us left the shores of Nigeria
for “better” opportunities. It could be for greener pastures, for
political asylum from military persecution or just for a more enabling
academic (less corrupt) environment where we can practice our
profession/trade and live an uncompromising life. His death caused me to
travel down memory lane. I recall with fond memories reading Things
Fall Apart as a teenager in Abraka. It is a book whose words and nuggets
of truth stayed with me, even during my sojourn abroad. I was extremely
happy and impressed when I stumbled across a copy of this great book,
at the Museum of African Art at The Smithsonian in Washington DC. I
almost did not recognize it because it was under a different cover.
Although they had changed the cover design, there was no mistaking the
great contents of its pages. Today, Things Fall Apart is now a required
text in many American schools.

The first lesson Achebe taught  me was the value of a good
foundation
. You must build a proper academic and life foundation. When I
was lecturing at the university, I was saddened at the number of
students who did not have the proper English,, math or moral
foundations. Your early foundation becomes the centre  of many things in
your life. One of the quotes from his book is “the centre cannot hold.”
Two parallel quotes from the Bible are apropos here.  Job 4:19 “How
much more those who dwell in houses of clay, Whose foundation is in the
dust, Who are crushed before a moth?” A second quote is Psalm 11:3,
which says “If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous
do?” The second scripture is a rhetorical question upon which emanates
many deliverance prayers. However, my interest here is on the first
quote from the Book of Job. I hold a black belt in the Korean martial
Arts of Tae Kwon Do. One clear lesson when I started as a white belt
(beginner) is that you must learn the basics first. You must know how to
chamber your kicks before you can create powerful sidekicks. You must
master your front kick before learning axe kick. Academically, you must
learn algebra before proceeding to trigonometry or quadratic equations.
Spelling is necessary for complex grammatical essays. No short cuts. You
learn to crawl before you can walk and walk before running. Nowadays,
our youths and politicians do not want to pay the price for a solid
“centre.”

Achebe also taught me the value of standing for (and saying) what you
believe, even if it is contrary to those who promote
anti-disestablishment-serialism. This is just a fancy multi-syllable
word that negates itself, but means that you are not a sycophant.
Professor Achebe stands in the record book as the only Nigerian to have
stood by his principles and declined twice (2004 & 2011) a national
honour award as Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), although he
accepted a National Merits Award (NAMA). Please, see my article of
September 17, 2012 titled “Merit in the National Honour Award” for a
better understanding of the difference between the two types of awards.
In addition, he did not mind if the contents of his book offended anyone
as long as he was stating his conscience, as evidenced by the
controversy that trailed his recent book. The point is that we still
salute him for saying what he believes, believing what he says, and
standing by what he believes even to death.

Achebe went further and taught me that you should expand your scope
of influence and not settle for being a local champion or live a life of
mediocrity. Your work will show your worth.
He could have settled for a
small village life confined to southeastern Nigeria, but chose to
spread his intellectual tentacles and affected the lives of other ethnic
nationalities, including Caucasians. A local pugilist will never know
if he can win a World Boxing Title if he just stays in the safe confines
of his community where he has knocked out all challengers. Of course,
some “locals” are afraid of Daniel’s elucidation of the handwriting on
the wall for King Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar) in Daniel 5:27
“TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Many
oppose zoning and its twin brother called federal character because they
elevate people who when weighed in the balance (comparison to others),
will be found wanting.


Finally, Professor Achebe taught me and everyone else, that at the
end of our life, we would be judged. What will you be remembered for?

When I preach at funerals or address youths, I use the initials “DASH”
to teach on living and leaving a legacy. DASH represents the period
between your birth and your death. D stands for your deeds. What are
your deeds (actions) here? A-represents your attitude. We all detest
people with bad attitude. Your attitude determines your altitude more
than your aptitude. S-stands for Sacrifice and you must live a life of
sacrifice if you want to succeed. Successful people know the value of
sacrifice. In my book, The Seven Open Secrets of Success (available on
Amazon.com), I listed sacrifice as the sixth open secret. H-stands for
your heart. Your heart must be right with God and man so that when you
die, your eternal abode will be unquestionable. As the Old Testament
Preacher said in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For
out of it spring the issues of life.” Professor Achebe has taught me to
live in such a way that at the end of my life, I will be missed because
I left a legacy based on an amazing DASH.

Professor Chinua Achebe may have passed away eight (8) months short
of his 83rd birthday, but his influence on the world will not pass or
fade away. His legacy lives on. I doff my hat to a literary Icon,
knowing his soul will rest in perfect peace.

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